Talk: Author, Artist and Publisher Denis Kitchen on His New Biography of Al Capp, Creator of the Li’l Abner Comic Strip

March 25, 2013
5:00 pm

Herter Hall

Room: 301

UMass Amherst Campus

Handicap access available
Free admission
NC Christopher Couch

Denis Kitchen, renowned comics historian and author of The Art of Harvey Kurtzman, The Mad Genius of Comics, will appear at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to talk about his new book, Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary. Al Capp was the writer and artist of the comic strip Lil Abner, which appeared in newspapers from 1934 to 1974. Al Capp (1909-1979), born Alfred Gerald Caplin, lived and worked in Boston. His Lil Abner comic strip was lauded in its day for its wild humor and scathing and intelligent political satire, a forerunner of Doonesbury and Bloom County.

Denis Kitchen is a pioneering underground cartoonist and publisher who founded one of the most respected American comic art publishing companies, Kitchen Sink Press. For thirty years (1969-1999), Kitchen Sink published works by outstanding and innovative comic artists and graphic novelists, including the graphic novels of Will Eisner, “The Father of the Graphic Novel,” comics by Robert Crumb, Mark Schultz (Xenozoic Tales/Cadillacs & Dinosaurs), Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (From Hell), and reprints of classic American comic strips from R. F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid to Capp’s Li’l Abner. Kitchen Sink Press publications won numerous Eisner and Harvey awards for outstanding contributions to comic art.

Although better known as a publisher, Kitchen has been called “a gifted and exceptional artist” by Robert Crumb. He began his career as an artist and pioneering self-publisher with his 1968 comic book Mom’s Homemade Comics, and has continued to draw comics, recently collected in The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen (Dark Horse 2010). Kitchen has also been an advocate for creative freedom and artists’ rights, and founded and served for over a decade as president of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization devoted to defending the First Amendment.

Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary is the first biography of the controversial comic strip creator whom John Steinbeck called “the best writer in the world.” Capp was the comic artist who became a true public intellectual, quoted by reporters and political columnists on the issues of the day, widely interviewed, and the author of a syndicated column and host of a radio talk show. Lil Abner was a rural Candide, a comic strip about a country boy whose innocence exposes the corruption of the world. Capp’s imagination populated his cartoon world with fantastic creatures like the Shmoos, who would do anything for humanity, and invented a still-popular holiday, Sadie Hawkins Day, when girls can ask boys to dance, or get married.

Kitchen’s biography of Capp, written with Michael Schumacher, author of Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics, “offers an insider's perspective on the clannish but competitive world of comic strip and book artists,” and is “an engrossing look into the life of an American luminary as well as the evolution of an art form,” according to Publisher’s Weekly. Al Capp was America’s most prominent and successful Jewish comic strip creator, and comics historian Arthur Asa Berger has linked the Li’l Abner’s combination of social consciousness and fantasy to Yiddish folk tale and theatrical traditions. Capp turned sharply to the right in the 1960s, and Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary shows “both the light and dark sides of the man who made the country both laugh and gag” according to Kirkus Reviews.

Kitchen’s appearance at 5:00 PM on Monday, March 25, 2013, will be followed by a book signing of Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary and Kitchen’s other books.

This event, sponsored by the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Posen Foundation for the Study of Jewish Secularism, is free, open to the public, and wheelchair accessible.  For more information, email or call 413-545-2550.